When I was three years old, I had a recurring nightmare. In the dream I am sleeping in my parents bed. I am warm, buried under a down comforter. My Mom is on one side of me, my Dad on the other. Outside the window I am see a snowstorm, the big flakes illuminated by the streetlight. Out of the darkness I begin to see the shapes of Native American warriors. They appear in the air above the bed. They are doing some sort of chant, moving together in a rotating circle. There are three or four of them, but it doesn't matter how many of them there are. All I can focus on is the chief. The chief with his magnificent headdress, wearing a look of menace.
About two years ago we encountered tragedy. In the course of working through that I found that writing about what I was experiencing was good therapy. It helped for a very long time. Then one day it didn't help as much. It became more of a chore and less a cathartic exercise, and so I stopped for a while. With time I've found that I miss writing, but I can't write about loss anymore, at least not directly. I'm tapped out. I want explore something else.
As I write this, I am 38 years old. I am in the summer of my life. It feels odd to think in those terms, given the winter I've just endured, but it is mid-July in my metaphor. I am at a time when I am starting to see the similarities between myself and my parents; at a point where I am see the connections between us. History repeating itself across the generations.
My Dad was 38 in 1974. He was a recently married artist. An accomplished and recognized painter. A student working on doctorate in art education. I was born six years later, after my parents had moved west from Brooklyn to a sleepy mountain town in Arizona. To Flagstaff.
That home has grown over the years. The town has grown around it as well. No longer as sleepy, now more tourist than cowboy. More commerce and less (conveniently) communist. At my core the house and the town remain stuck in 1986. The breadth and expanse of a 6-year-old's known universe.
My parents built a studio on the back of the house. A space where my Dad could continue to paint, after spending his days teaching at the local university. That studio became the shorthand for being near Dad for me. My earliest memories are of being in that room with my Dad, listening to big band music, and painting. It was a place to him to work, yes, but also a place for my siblings and I to explore. Where we came to be creative, to be content. A paradise for small hands and big minds.
The studio was equal parts inviting and foreign that as a little kid that you had to be a little brave to be in there alone... only the skylights illuminating the room... strange masks and mountain goat skulls lining the walls... the floor a Pollack, peppered with color from drops off the easel.
The studio could be at once vibrant, and captivating. Rich with an intoxicating darkness that keeps you from looking away until you go to bed with nightmares that the eyes in the masks on the wall are following you.
Walking past the studio at night, hearing that Tommy Dorsey beckoning, then peering in to see my Dad at work on a painting of men wearing Elizabethan collars and with ram skulls for heads. Being scared, but not quite enough to look away. The whole scene not unlike talking to Lloyd in the Gold Room.
In about 1982 or '83 my Dad started work on what would become High Plains Drifter on Carousel. The painting depicts a Native American warrior, in full headdress, riding a dark mustang with brilliant stars painted on its tail. In the background we see the head of a white stallion, itself also decked in stars. On the other side we see the presumed tail of another dark colored mustang. Looking more closely we see that the warrior appears to be holding onto a pole, and that the wild mustang he is on is, in actuality, part of a amusement park ride, a carousel.
The painting, like most of his work, is large, at least four feet by four feet. The size and content intimidates those looking to hang it on the wall of beloved room. It is a piece meant for places of deep contemplation, museums and oak walled libraries. The piece is large, but the detailing is fine. Close held brush strokes reminding you of the pin striping on classic hot rods.
High Plains Drifter was a gallery piece, making its way into an exhibition in the 1984 Worlds Fair, in New Orleans. It is also responsible for one of my most vivid nightmares as a child. The one described in the entrance above.
So it is with the majority of my Dad's work, at times whimsical, at times darkly surreal, never not complicated. That a man who has brought such warmth and happiness to my world could produce work with such portent fascinates me, and with the help of my Mom, has instilled in me a desire to always get below the surface. To find those stories and places that we cannot turn away from. Stories that I would like to someday be able to tell, both as they are and as they evolve as you continue to experience them.
I can only love those dark hills because I live in the day
I can only see the mountain because I am in town
I only love night because I have only smelled it
Actually living in the night means no talking
I can only say "no flashlight" because once I accidentally forgot it
Actually living in the night means actually walking in the dark means
To find caves